Saturday, October 6, 2018

British Canadian Trappers Camp Along the Salmon River [otd 10/6]

On October 6, 1824, a large band of fur traders, trappers, and camp keepers – the so-called "Snake Brigade" – returned to what they called "Canoe Point." (Probably located where the Pahsimeroi River empties into the Salmon, but possibly near Challis.) A unit of the Hudson's Bay Company led by Alexander Ross, the Brigade had earlier hidden their beaver pelts at the spot. At that time, Ross said, "Hiding furs in places frequented by Indians is a risky business."

Now he wrote, "Our cache of May is safe. Length of Salmon River covered this year, 100 miles."
Ship Tonquin, ca 1810. Gabriel Franchère drawing.

A Scotsman, Ross emigrated to Canada in 1804, when he was about twenty-one. He first worked as a schoolmaster and bought some land.

However, he hoped for better prospects in the fur trade. Thus, in 1810, he signed on as a clerk with the Pacific Fur Company [blog, yesterday]. Ross sailed with the ship Tonquin and helped build Astoria in the spring of 1811.

That summer, Ross was a member of the group that established a trading post in (future) Washington. He managed the post for several years, accumulating experience in the trade. When the North West Company (NWC) acquired all of the PFC's western assets, Ross continued working for them.

Donald Mackenzie, another ex-Astorian, led the first Brigade into Idaho in 1816. Two years later, Ross helped build Fort Nez Percés (near today's Walla Walla) and managed the post and its Brigade support operations until 1821.

That year, the British Crown "negotiated" a merger between the NWC and the Hudson's Bay Company. The new management promoted Mackenzie to a post in Canada, and Brigade activities languished for a year. Finally, the HBC appointed an interim leader for the 1823 campaign, then assigned the job to Ross for the following year.

Ross circled through Montana to enter Idaho via Lemhi Pass. Hoping to open new beaver country, he then led the Brigade up the Salmon River. By May, they had done well enough that, as noted above, they cached most of their pelts at Canoe Point.

From there, they had crossed over into the upper Boise River watershed … a very bad idea. Ross observed, "Never did man or beast pass through a country more forbidding or hazardous. The rugged and rocky paths had worn our horses' hoofs to the quick, and we not infrequently stood undecided and hopeless of success."
Mountain pack train. Canadian Archives photo.

The party finally reached the lower Boise. Here, Ross noted, ten of his coworkers with the PFC had been killed by Indians. He also wrote, “At its mouth an establishment was begun by Donald McKenzie in 1819. It was burned and two men killed. In spring 1820, four men more were destroyed by the natives. This river has already cost the whites sixteen men.”

Still, Ross’s expedition did better on the lower Boise, the Payette, and the Weiser before following the Snake upstream into central Idaho. The Brigade next turned generally north, scrambled over the mountains onto the Salmon, and then back to Canoe Point.

Just over a week later, the Snake Brigade met a band of trappers led by Jedediah Smith. These were the first Americans to hunt west of the Continental Divide since the Astorians in 1811-1812, and they ended the British-Canadian fur monopoly in Idaho.

Ross returned to Canada after that season.
References: [B&W]
Gabriel Franchère, Journal of a Voyage on the North West Coast of North America, Champlain Society, Toronto, Canada (1969).
Frits Pannekoek, “Alexander Ross” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Alexander Ross, T. C. Elliott (Ed.), “Journal of Alexander Ross, Snake Country Expedition, 1824,” Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. 14 (Dec. 1913).

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